Aging Options

If It’s Time to Talk to a Loved One About a Move to Assisted Living, Start the Conversation Early, and Don’t Push Too Hard

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As a parent ages, the toughest topic for adult kids to bring up is the question of when mom or dad needs a bit more help because they can no longer stay safely independent. These conversations can quickly turn argumentative, with parents desperate to cling to their personal freedom, and sons and daughters equally insistent that the time has come for a move. If you’re facing that conversation, no doubt the idea fills you with dread. How do you lovingly but firmly take the next step?

This article from HealthDay could help.   It’s based on a recent press release from the Baylor College of Medicine in which a Baylor geriatrician offers her suggestions on how to broach the topic of assisted living while avoiding defensiveness. We like the approach suggested in the article and wanted to share it as food for thought. (You can read the press release, published on September 20 thhere on the Baylor College of Medicine website.)

Make Parents Feel Safe and Comfortable

This timely article centers around the expert wisdom of Dr. Angela Catic, a geriatrician and associate professor at Baylor College in Houston. Catic suggests that any conversation begin and end with the safety and comfort level of the loved one as the prime consideration. Above all, she admonishes, don’t push.

Her primary suggestion is not to delay the discussion until the need is urgent. “Start the conversation as early as possible, and focus on what matters,” she explains. “Think about if an assisted living environment could not just support, but enrich things that really bring joy to that individual’s life.” In other words, your loved one may have ideas about assisted living that you’ll need to address and hopefully overcome through empathy and tact.

Signs of Difficulty at Home Prompt the Conversation

For most adult children, says HealthDay, the first signs that an aging parent might need help start with difficulties keeping up with care of the home and yard. “Adult children often start talking about assisted living when they see their parents are struggling,” according to Catic.

This sudden awareness of need is often most acute in the first months of widowhood. “After the death of a partner, a person may feel alone and lose their social connections,” she adds. “This is where transitioning into assisted living could benefit an older person, as such facilities often provide various social activities for their residents.” (One caution, however: most experts advise against making any major moves immediately after the death of a spouse unless circumstances demand it.)

Consider These Gentle Conversation Starters

Catic provides the following list of “conversation starters” that she feels will help ease the tension associated with the topic of assisted living. We’ve included her full list here. When talking with a parent about assisted living:

  • Mention a few facilities you have already researched prior to the conversation. Whether you visit them in person or do online research, keeping a few facilities in mind can ease any nervous feelings about the process.
  • Present a few options close to your loved one’s home or facilities near the home of a family member. This could remind them that they won’t be completely alone and will still have access to their family.
  • Stay mindful of their feelings, as they could feel anxious or sad about having such a conversation. These emotions may prompt them to resist the move altogether.
  • Mention any of their friends that you have heard from or ask them if they know anyone who has already moved into an assisted living facility, to normalize the idea.
  • Make sure they feel involved in the process so they feel like they have control over what happens.
  • Encourage them to come with you to tour a few facilities so they can visualize what their stay would be like there.

If they agree to move, helping a loved one feel at home in new surroundings is paramount. “Find a place they feel good about, too, and bring some of their belongings,” Catic suggests. “It’s typically a major downsizing of space, but it is important to bring things that have meaning to them and make it feel like home as much as possible. This may include items like a favorite chair, items they need to engage in a favorite hobby or family photographs.”

Don’t Insist Unless Safety is a Major Worry

As difficult as it can be, if your loved one really doesn’t want to move, then insisting isn’t going to help. The only exception is if you’re truly worried about your loved one’s safety. While we hope it never happens, an accident at home can be a catalyst for an honest conversation. As the HealthDay article states, “Hospitalization due to an accident or other health issues can also be a good reason to bring up the idea of assisted living again.”

Catic explains, “If they decline initially, you can always return to the conversation later, as their initial hesitation could be due to other factors that change. When bringing the topic up again, ask them if they had time to reconsider the idea. Welcome their thoughts on the subject and offer ways you can make the process more comfortable for them.”

When Visiting a Facility, Look Beneath the Surface

Don’t be too quick to move your loved one into a place based on appearances or surface-level concerns. The priority, according to Catic, is to find a place that fits your loved one’s needs and learning as much as you possibly can about it. This way you and your loved one both know what to expect. “Even if a place looks nice in the lobby or on the tour,” Catic warns, “finding out more about what they have to offer can be an important part of finding the best fit for your loved one.”

Other considerations when looking deeper into a facility are staff turnover rates and whether the facility has connections to other social groups (such as veteran groups). For an in-depth list of helpful suggestions to evaluate housing choices, the article includes a link to the National Institute on Aging which offers more tips on residential facilities, assisted living and nursing homes.

The article warns us not to get overly impressed by effective sales techniques. “Go beyond the beautiful, fresh flower bouquet in the lobby because this is going to be someone’s home, not a hotel they’re staying in for a couple of nights,” Catic advises. “You’re looking for a feeling of home and fitting in with other residents and a staff that feel like family.”

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Photo Credit: Freestock

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